Plasmodium-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers allowed detection of infections with very low-level parasitemia for 3 species of malaria parasites infecting Anolis lizards at 2 Caribbean sites, Puerto Rico and Saba, Netherlands Antilles. A verification study, using a single-tube nested PCR to eliminate contamination, showed that infections as low as 1 parasite per millions of erythrocytes could be detected by amplifying a 673 bp fragment of the cytochrome b gene. Very low-level parasitemia infections, subpatent under the microscope, were common in A. sabanus on Saba sites, with no significant seasonal difference (31% of infections appearing uninfected by microscopic examination in summer were found infected by PCR, 38% in winter). At the Puerto Rico site, the subpatent infections were also common in A. gundlachi, but were more prevalent in winter (53%) than in summer (17%). A similar high frequency of subpatent infections is known from studies on human and bird malaria, but a previous PCR-based study on a temperate lizard malaria system found few such low-level infections. Differences in the prevalence of subpatent infections by site and season suggest transmission biology may select for distinct life history strategies by the parasite.
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